Public interviews have begun for Hawaii County Police chief
On Monday, the Hawai’i County Police Commission interviewed the four finalists for the vacant position of chief during a public 5 1/2-hour special meeting in the Hilo County Council Chambers.
Candidates Paul Applegate, Sherry Bird, Edward G. Ignacio and Benjamin T. Moszkowicz were peppered with more than 20 questions, some submitted by the public.
The public interviews will continue Tuesday in Kona with another special meeting at 9 a.m. at the West Hawaiʻi Civic Center, Building A Council Chambers, 74-5044 Ane Keohokalole Highway. Join the meeting over Zoom here.
Prior to the questioning Monday morning, Commission Chair John Bertsch recused himself from the chief selection process moving forward based on his close relationship with finalist Ignacio.
During the initial part of the selection process, the commission spent several months whittling the pool of 44 candidates to the four finalists with the applicants supposedly known only by number.
On Monday, each candidate explained why they were the best candidate for Hawai’i Island.
Capt. Paul Applegate, who is the Acting Assistant Chief, Patrol Services Bureau at the Kauaʻi Police Department, cited his collective experience in his life and job: “I believe I’m the best fit for this opportunity, for this community and for this department to lead them in the direction they need to be led.”
Applegate believes his personality and ability to bring people together from different groups allows them to to bond emotionally and work towards a common goal, even though they come from different philosophies.
Applegate was born in Hilo and graduated from Waiākea High School in 1984. He served in the United States Army Reserve for six years and in 1999 he applied to be a police officer in Hawai’i County, graduating from HPD’s 57th Recruit Class.
He transferred to the Kaua’i Police Department in 2000. Throughout his tenure on the Garden Isle, Applegate has been commander of all three bureaus with KPD and lieutenant for the Internal Affairs/Criminal Investigation with the chief’s office.
The only internal candidate is Maj. Sherry Bird, a 24-year veteran at the Hawaiʻi Police Department, said she would lead the department in a purposeful manner — one that embraces creativity and innovation.
“I don’t want to do the same things the same way we’ve always done them,” she said. “I have the drive, the determination, skills, abilities and capabilities that’s needed as the chief.”
Bird currently is serving in the Area II Field Operations Bureau, which includes the Traffic Enforcement Unit, Criminal Investigations Division, patrol, community policing and school resource officers. She provides direct supervision of seven subordinate staff members and 237 sworn and non-sworn employees.
Bird’s promotion from lieutenant to major last year was historic. She became one of three women within the department’s history to hold that rank.
Maj. Benjamin Moszkowicz, a 22-year veteran with the Honolulu Police Department, said he is a person of unshakable integrity: “That’s fundamental in choosing someone to lead an organization of this level of importance in the community.”
Moszkowicz said his education and collective experience separates him from the other finalists.
“When choosing someone for this position, you need someone who’s going to use open, honest, transparent, proactive communication to build successful collaborative partnerships,” Moszkowicz said. “If that’s what you’re looking for then I’m the person for the job.”
Moszkowicz currently is serving in Honolulu within the Traffic Division. Throughout his career, he has worked in every division within the department, including: Information Technology, Human Resources, Criminal Investigation and Traffic Division.
Moszkowicz also has worked as a grant manager, supervisor and watch commander in patrol, traffic and administrative assignments.
Edward Ignacio, a retired Senior Resident Agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigations, said he came out of retirement to apply for the chief position: “I will be a leader in this community, whether it’s in this position or another. How I was raised, the values that I have, led me to this journey.”
Ignacio added: “I have the ability to see things at a 30,000-foot level … I have experience worldwide. I’ve seen and worked with leaders at the highest levels in law enforcement. I will bring leadership to the table.”
Ignacio was raised in Laupahoehoe. He has 29 years of law enforcement experience, including serving as a police officer for the Hawaiʻi Police Department from from 1996 to 2000 and for the Honolulu Police Department.
He started his career with the FBI in El Paso, Texas where he was a certified undercover agent and on the SWAT team. From 2008-18, Ignacio worked in the Honolulu Division supervising the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the Pacific.
Ignacio was deployed by the FBI in various leadership roles to National Security Special Events, Olympic Games, Super Bowls and other high visibility special events and protective details.
Prior to the questioning, the police commission took testimony from the public, with a handful of people expressing support for different candidates.
James O’Connor retired this year as assistant chief of operations. He testified to the commission that all four the applicants don’t “jump off the paper to me.”
In his 29 years of experience, O’Connor said he’s worked with all candidates throughout his career and noted that none of them have the administration experience it takes to manage a department of 500 employees.
“When you’re a chief, you’re a manager of people,” O’Connor said.
The three things a chief needs from day one, O’Connor said, is extended time in administration, internal affairs or the credentialing organization the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc, also known as CALEA.
O’Connor specifically noted Ignacio and Bird do not have administrative experience.
“I’m not saying that anyone of these candidates can’t be a good chief over time,” O’Connor said, adding his concern that when a chief is brought in that doesn’t have that experience they promote people that aren’t right for the job.
Despite his reservations on the candidates, O’Connor said Applegate would be the best for the department.
Hilo patrol officer Mark Arnold, a 24-year veteran, also endorsed Applegate because he believes he understands the importance of his employees and is the type of leader who can help resolve issues.
“I’ve yet to find a person who has a negative thing to say about him. his reputation stands on its own,” Arnold said.
Moses Kaoiwi, recently retired Brigade General for the Army National Guard testified over Zoom that while he knows three of the candidates with Hawaii County ties, his support goes to Ignacio.
Ignacio also had community support from two of the testifiers.
Patti Cook, a Waimea resident, testified in support of Bird because she found her to be a collaborative problem solver when she was stationed in South Kohala.